Anyhow, my experience in Lourdes was a profound one. I stayed at a house with a number of other seminarians who were also volunteering in Lourdes, some for just a couple weeks like I was and others for five or six weeks. My apostolate was to the English-speaking pilgrims in particular, spending my time helping organize English language Masses, helping run the daily Eucharistic and Torchlight Rosary Processions, and leading pilgrims on the Way of the Cross and on the Way of Bernadette, a pilgrimage through the important places in her life in Lourdes. I was a little saddened that my plans to help out for a day at the baths for the sick fell through, but I was still able to minister to those sick pilgrims in other ways in my other apostolic works.
There were a lot of people of great faith there on pilgrimage and, or so I got the impression, there were people there just to be able to say that they went there, without any real deeply devotional underpinnings to their trips. It was good to be able to work with them all, though, and be an example of faith to some and, honestly, to let some be an example of faith to me. I liked leading the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross, the most. The stations they had in Lourdes were these life-sized, bronze masterpieces. They were spaced out along this stony path winding up a tree-covered hillside, which was a very peaceful place to pray, though the uneven stony path was a good reminder of the difficult way of our Lord on which we were meditating.
I got to spend a lot of time with the other seminarians in Lourdes. They were from around the world, so we had five or six 'house languages'. French was the primary one, but Italian, Spanish, English, and even a little German and Dutch were utilized in Morning and Evening Prayer and in our daily announcements and dinner table conversations. It was great getting to share our stories and hear what it has been like for the other seminarians growing up and discerning in their countries and particular cultural climates. There were a couple other American seminarians, as well as a few Dutch seminarians who all obviously spoke decent English, which was good. The priest who ran the house was a very kind and hardworking man who spoke mostly French and Italian.
Finally, before I left I made sure to do everything not just as a guide but also as a pilgrim. I prayed in the processions with the rest of the pilgrims, I attended the French Mass a few times, I went to the baths, and I got up very early in the morning a couple mornings and prayed my Holy Hour at the Grotto. If you have been to the Grotto at Notre Dame in South Bend, it's pretty close, actually. It really isn't a bad reproduction.
The experience at the baths is not easy to put into words. I was very impressed, first of all, by how much they tried to downplay the miraculous nature of the place. They weren't trying to sell anything, they were trying to bring people to Christ. They saw the waters as being a sign and sacramental, something which is not magical but which is a means God has chosen for distributing His grace. The waters are meant to recall our baptismal immersion and the waters of life flowing from our Lord in the Spirit. If we are physically healed, awesome, but the real healing power of the place is spiritual. Taking this in, I sat and prayed in line for an hour or two, offering up any and all sufferings, sins, failings, imperfections, and everything else in my life in need of healing. I finally got to the front and was ushered inside, where there are several separated rooms curtained off for some sense of privacy, I think. You go in and sit in a room with five (or seven, maybe) other guys/girls and one of the workers. Then they take you one at a time from that room into a bath immediately beyond, where they throw a large towel around you and have you walk into the water. The workers there, who were a couple very kind Irishmen, I think, for my visit, then lead you in prayer and gently, very briefly lean you back until you are almost entirely submerged, then they lift you back up and help you out, where you return to the last room, get dressed, and head out. They do so much for you because the water is only about 50 degrees, which is cold enough that my higher mental functions almost completely ceased, so it is very helpful for them to lead the prayer as I wasn't going to be doing that.
All I can really say is that there was a lot of grace poured out there. I was grinning like an idiot for, no exaggeration, probably the next four hours afterward, maybe more. Our Lord has deigned to work a lot of grace in that place through our Lady. I grew just a little bit that day and during my time in Lourdes as a whole. I found myself praying very hard for everyone else there, those with whom I worked and those to whom we ministered. I prayed hard for all the other people waiting there with me to enter the bath. I prayed hard for all my brother seminarians and all the priests I know. I prayed hard for my bishop and my family and friends and everyone back home. I offered up many who had been an influence on me during my life, as many as I could remember during my time in prayer. Lourdes is an incredible place to grow in appreciation of intercessory prayer, for our Lady herself intercedes mightily for us there. May she teach us all to be more like she is in her love of her Son, her obedience to her Son, and her concern for each one of us.